Writer: Arthur Miller
Director: Jonathan Church
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
Superficially, all of Arthur Miller’s great plays are deeply rooted in American culture and history, but their enduring appeal on this side of the Atlantic reflects the universality and timelessness of the writer’s human themes. Transferring from the Theatre Royal Bath, Jonathan Church’s production of the 1968 play The Price is the first of two major Miller revivals opening in London this week and two more will follow in the coming months. Any living playwright would surely be envious.
Having been born in 1915, America’s Great Depression impacted significantly on Miller’s early life, as it has done on the lives of brothers Victor and Walter Franz, the play’s chief protagonists. Their father had been broken by the Depression and Victor had felt compelled to take care of him, giving up a promising career in science. The price that he has paid is 30 years as a uniformed police officer, a job that he hates. Walter had turned in the opposite direction, building a successful and lucrative career in medicine, but paying a price in terms of personal fulfilment. The estranged brothers are reunited at their father’s home, 16 years after his death, to sell off his possessions and raise cash that 50-year-old Victor needs for his impending retirement.
The tone is set perfectly by Simon Higlett’s design for the attic of the Franz family home. A harp that is never played sits in a corner, a Queen Anne-style chair and matching chaise longue take centre stage, surrounded by assorted clutter. We recognise this as a place from which the present has departed and the past lives on, the only thing missing seems to be Miss Haversham. Miller is telling us that the past always hovers over us and that every decision taken in life bears a cost. He argues that laying the blame on others for our own actions is futile.
Brendan Coyle is superb as Victor, outwardly solid and upright, but always questioning the foundations for a code of honour that puts duty and self-sacrifice ahead of personal gain. There is bitterness in Sara Stewart’s Esther, Victor’s wife, as she pushes for a better life than a police officer can give her, perhaps needing to fund her drinking habit. Adrian Lukis’ Walter has an arrogant air, but we see the cracks in his veneer as the truth behind versions of past incidents is challenged. Walter would seem to be the obvious villain of the piece, but Miller never fully endorses this view, showing that life is always much more complex than first impressions show.
Much of the strength of Church’s vivid revival is drawn from the play’s masterful construction, Miller using a richly comic character to hold together his stern examination of family division, guilt and regret. Gregory Solomon is an 89-year-old Jewish furniture dealer who can put a price on anything. Apart from giving light relief exactly when it is needed, the character adds an ironic perspective to the emotionally-charged drama that is unfolding all around. David Suchet plays him to the hilt in a performance that, on its own, makes the ticket price good value.
Runs until 27 April 2019 | Image: Contributed